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During Jane the Virgin season 2, “Chapter Thirty-Seven,” the titular Jane — who was at that point also still the titular virgin — wore a really cute dress. This might not seem like a big deal, especially because anybody who watches the show knows that she wears cute dresses in just about every other scene. But it was a big deal to me in that I really, really wanted that dress.
I found it with some Googling and reverse-photo lookups and was immediately faced with a quandary that I should have seen coming: It was on sale, but the significant discount pricing would most likely be over before Lent wrapped up — and this was the year I gave up shopping for the duration of Lent. With concerns in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t suit me properly, I playfully mourned my inability to purchase it on Twitter. The show’s costume designer, Rachel Sage Kunin, responded and convinced me to buy it when I could. So the following week, I splurged on something I wasn’t confident I’d ever feel completely confident wearing. Which, for me, was not a good feeling.
Except that when I did finally put it on, it felt like I’d been looking in a false mirror for half my life. Is that what my shoulders can look like in a dress? Is it really possible to accentuate my waist in quite this way without stuffing myself into three layers of Spandex and sacrificing the ability to breathe? Even more shocking was when I realized the dress wasn’t the only thing from the show that would be a great fit. The entire wardrobe flipped my perspective about fashion and my own looks upside-down.
When Jane the Virgin first premiered, some people didn’t fully know what to expect from a show that had such a premise, and thank the television gods that everyone who had even the most minor concerns was proven wrong. By now we know that the show, which returned last week on The CW, has blossomed into one of the most fulfilling, empowering, and confident shows on all of television. It has an arsenal of various strengths that it deploys as needed — whether that be sharp humor, tragic twists, or sweeping romantic displays — but one of its greatest and most consistent assets through three seasons has been its costuming.
Jane the Virgin’s costumes, across all characters, ably split the difference between aspirational and practical. They successfully fall between the shiny faux-realism of television and a believable representation of what a working class family in Miami dealing with a dozen plot twists in their lives at any given time might wear — and can afford. It’s both chic and preppy, intensely colorful, fancy when the moment calls for it, and true to each character’s telenovela-inspired crises while also always considering their everyday routines. Each costume feels deeply rooted in the show’s setting, evoking the same level of care about the message it aims to get across as each plot decision or piece of dialogue.
That attention to detail and the Floridian tilt made it all the more surprising when it dawned on me, a white girl from Massachusetts who never met a boat shoe she didn’t want to propose to, that Jane Villanueva — and, by extension, her portrayer, Gina Rodriguez — had become the fashion role model I never had before.
It wasn’t just that I’d never had a style role model before Jane the Virgin showed up, it was that I never consciously wanted one, either. All throughout high school and college I enjoyed dressing up and putting some good shoes on when the occasion called for it, but I’d also wear sweatpants and a T-shirt to school just as quickly as I’d opt for my trendy American Eagle jeans and actually brush my hair. I was too busy with sports and the school paper and eight other extracurriculars to pay any attention to fashion at more than a nominal level — not out of any sense of disdain, but because there just weren’t enough hours in the day.
I never compared my own clothing choices with any trendsetters at the time. Outside of your standard teenager-through-early-20s inhibitions about appearance and weight, there was no resentment that I couldn’t fit into the things actresses of the moment wore. There was no sense that I was missing something by not having someone with both my body type and my style preferences to duplicate. In my mind, I could take care of myself when it came to style choices.
So not only did I love Jane the Virgin’s style, but the way the show matched with my style sensibilities came as a pleasant surprise. I was focusing so much on the quality of the show and Rodriguez’s debut star turn that it snuck on me like a cat sneaks up on you when you’re sleeping (but less murder-y). While I admired the costuming from the start, I didn’t realize how well-matched we were until the second season, when I went in search of that dress.
It’s a miraculous brand of kismet, realizing something has been gifted to you that you never knew you needed. You never missed it, never longed for what it would provide you or wished that it would just happen. So it’s all enjoyment without any of the disappointment in advance.
Jane the Virgin opened up an entirely different perspective in my day-to-day life. I started following what Rodriguez wore outside the show as well (“oh, those Spandex workout shorts look great on her even though I’m always self-conscious when I try that cut on!” or, “So I could pull off that haircut length without making my face look chubby, huh?”) and noting what proportions I should be following in my clothing choices.
It’s not quite the case that finally having an actress whose physique and style I match with makes my insecurities “okay” because I didn’t so much care what people thought before this turning point. Everybody has insecurities, of course; to deny that would be disingenuous. But I’d gotten to the point where I had accepted them and adapted. (If someone outside my family ever insinuated that my athletic thighs or Italian ass were an issue of any sort, though, we’d have problems.)
It felt more like I leveled up in my confidence just enough to make a noticeable difference. Like when you’re already running fast in a Sonic the Hedgehog game but then hit the speed boosts and feel invincible. My concerns about my arms not being toned enough for certain shirts and dresses transformed into a confidence that they looked just fine no matter what since they were the same size and general shape as Rodriguez’s, and Lord knows hers looked always great, even in weird red carpet angles. That had to mean mine must look awesome at least 40 percent more of the time than I had been giving them credit for, right? Her curviness was my curviness, her athleticism my cue that there are so many clothes out there that I never realized could work on me.
And the way I’ve kept an eye on the costuming since then has broadened my taste as well, leading me to reconsider so many styles that I’d previously dismissed. It turns out that floral patterns don’t actually noticeably widen my torso, there are cropped pants that exist that don’t make me look like a suburban mom even when seen on my wider thighs and short stature, and A-line dresses aren’t the devil because of the way they fall on my hips.
My closet and budget may suffer from the temptation the show now represents at every turn, but the tradeoff is more than worth that trouble. This type of fashion role model is something I never had, never wanted, and never knew how much I needed for my own mental well-being. Gina Rodriguez and the Jane the Virgin costume department have permanently changed my perspective about my own body and style. That’s no small feat, and something that I can already say has made my life better.